In sacramental communion, we receive the Trinity and become ‘partakers of the divine nature’
By Father Randy Stice
The Trinity is the central mystery of our faith and life. The entire Christian life “is a communion with each of the divine persons, without in any way separating them.” When we glorify the Father, we do so through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
When we follow Christ, we do so because the Father draws us, and the Spirit moves us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 259). Indeed, everything that God does in the world, from creation to the final consummation, “is the common work of the three divine persons” (CCC, 258). The beginning of Eucharistic Prayer III affirms this common work of the Trinity: “You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have created rightly gives you praise, for through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you give life to all things and make them holy.” The Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives life and holiness. In this column we will look at how the three Persons of the Trinity act in the liturgy.
Although everything that God does in the world is the work of the Trinity, each person does “what is proper to him” (CCC, 258). In other words, different activities are assigned to different persons. In theological language this is called appropriation—a certain activity is “appropriated” to a specific divine person. One of the greetings at the beginning of Mass, from 2 Corinthians 13:14, illustrates this: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Grace, love, and communion are the work of the Trinity, but St. Paul appropriates each to a particular person. Another example is the Liturgy of the Word. God Himself speaks when the Sacred Scriptures are read, Christ is present and proclaims the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit brings home to each person individually the word that is proclaimed to all. The common work of the Trinity is accomplished according to what is proper to each divine person.
We also address different persons of the Trinity at different points in the Mass. From the beginning of the Mass through the Our Father (except for the Christe eleison/Christ, have mercy), we are addressing God the Father. The opening prayer is addressed to the Father. The prayers that accompany the placing of the gifts on the altar begin “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness…” Following the dialogue, the preface continues, “It is truly right and just…to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God…” Eucharistic Prayer I then continues, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father…” and Eucharistic Prayer IV continues, “We give you praise, Father most holy.” All of the Eucharistic Prayers conclude with the same trinitarian doxology: “Through Him [Christ], and with Him and in Him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…,” after which we pray the Our Father.
However, the next prayer, for peace and unity (from John 14:27), is addressed to Christ: “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” Following the Sign of Peace, we say the Agnus Dei/Lamb of God (based on John 1:29) to Jesus, now present on the altar. We then say, “Lord, I am not worthy…,” addressing Jesus in the words of the centurion whose slave was near death (Luke 7:1-10). Following Communion, we again address the Father in the final prayer of the Mass, the Prayer after Communion.
Jesus acts in a unique way when the priest pronounces the words of consecration: “This is my Body”; “This is the Chalice of my Blood.” At this moment, says St. John Paul II, “The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 5). It is Christ himself, speaking through the priest, who says these essential words.
The Holy Spirit is not directly addressed in the Mass, but He is invoked twice in what is called the epiclesis, which means “invocation upon.” In the first epiclesis the priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. This is the epiclesis from Eucharistic Prayer III: “O Lord, we humbly implore you, by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration, that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.” The invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words and actions of Christ bring about the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (CCC, 1353). The Holy Spirit is again invoked on the faithful following the consecration so that we may become the one Body of Christ—in the words of Eucharistic Prayer II, that “we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” These two invocations are important moments in the Mass.
The work of the Trinity culminates in sacramental communion. The inseparable unity of the Trinity means that when we receive sacramental communion, we receive the Trinity. We become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and the life of the Father. We abide in Christ, and He abides in us (John 6:56), and we “are filled with his Holy Spirit” (EP III). Immersing us in the mystery of the Triune God, the Mass truly is “a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1153).
Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at email@example.com.